Children are always watching their parents, teachers and caregivers as people they look up to, making it essential that we provide our kids with good opportunities and role models to help them understand differences and diversity among people. At a time when it is just as easy to communicate with someone in another country as it is to speak with our neighbors, it will help us all to improve our cultural awareness for success in a global society.
Parents know that children become aware of and intrigued by how different other people look and behave. Their curious minds are always looking for answers to their questions, and many children react vocally and ask about an interesting characteristic of a person as soon as they observe it. This can be an embarrassing moment for parents, and it may make the other person feel a bit uncomfortable. Rather than trying to avoid their questions and asking them to be quiet, take it as an opportunity to help your children understand and respect differences and similarities among those we come across.
Teaching your children about different cultures and providing them with an informed, international perspective is not simply for an educational purpose. It’s also a way to encourage understanding and empathy for others. To transform slightly awkward interactions into friendly learning opportunities, it is important to have an open mind and stay calm when our kids find an opportunity to embarrass us with their curiosity. It may be hard for parents to explain to kids about a culture that isn’t their own, but just like most things, it becomes easier with practice.
Here are five great tips to help your kids understand diversity:
1. Speak to youngsters at a level they will understand.
Ask questions to assess a child’s level of knowledge and curiosity. This gives you an opportunity to learn and share information about other cultures as you help satisfy their youthful curiosity in a respectful way. Use language children can understand to help answer questions and educate them on the topic.
2. Introduce a foreign language and vocabulary.
Teaching your children words in another language, perhaps a language from your family’s heritage, can introduce them to other cultures and even learn about your family history. Have fun learning words in another language and exploring similarities and differences, but be sure to teach your kids the proper words and to be aware of regional differences.
3. Play games and have fun while learning.
Get a world map, atlas or globe and ask your children to choose a country to learn about. Depending on their age, ask them what they would like to know or suggest topics of interest such as music, schools, topography, environment, clothes, housing, language, population statistics, etc. Puzzles are a great option for educational fun—look for these and other games and toys that encourage diversity.
4. Explore cultural events in your community.
Exposure to other cultures is important for learning and practical in today’s ever-connected world. Luckily, parents can find plenty of opportunities to introduce different cultures to their children. Books are a great way to open children’s eyes to differences, but actual experiences have direct influence for better understanding. Some ways to expose your children to real life experiences are by attending cultural activities or events that celebrate a particular ethnic group in your community or child’s school. Cooking and trying foods from different cultures at regional festivals is also a fun way to help kids learn and make friendships across differences.
5. Welcome different cultures into your home!
Participate in cultural exchange programs like Au Pair in America. Hosting an au pair is a great way for children to learn about cultural awareness. Just as parents are role models to their children, au pairs can have as much influence. Children become culturally sensitive and respectful when they see adults and those close to them being sensitive and respectful to other people’s cultures, appearance, beliefs and abilities.